It Might Not Be “Just A Noise” to Your Dog!
When young children hear a scary noise at night, they often run to their parents.
The response is usually something like “Don’t worry. It was just thunder.”
Or “It was just a noise. Nothing to be frightened of.” Unfortunately,
for a dog that is afraid of noise, no amount of explaining or consoling will help.
Noise Anxiety is a very real and very common problem for dogs across the country.
The estimates vary widely, but somewhere between 5 million and 15 million dogs suffer
from noise anxiety severe enough for their owners to seek help. That’s a lot
of anxiety! Below is a brief overview of canine noise anxiety including symptoms,
causes, and remedies. If your dog suffers from noise anxiety, there are choices
available to help relieve her stress. Unfortunately, many veterinarians are not
well versed on the different treatments out there and jump to prescribing medications.
Make sure you do your research before settling on a plan. But believe me, your dog
isn’t alone in her fear and you can help her!
Noise anxiety can exhibit many symptoms and severity levels. On the less extreme
end of the spectrum, a fear of thunder may just cause some shaking and clinging
to her owner. On the other extreme, thunder may cause panicked running, destructive
chewing, defecating indoors, or even jumping through a plate glass window! The table
below lists many of the known symptoms. Review the list to see which symptoms your
dog may exhibit. Some owners aren’t even aware that a negative behavior they are
seeing is actually caused by noise anxiety. For example, does your dog get upset
when you take photographs using a flash? That may be noise anxiety! The flash may
remind your dog of lightning and she becomes frightened that a storm may be coming.
|Symptoms of Canine Noise Anxiety
|Whining / Barking
||Seeking Tight Spaces
||Clinging to People
||Shaking / Trembling
||Pacing / Panicked Running
Determining what caused your dog’s noise anxiety may be difficult to pinpoint,
if not impossible. If you’re lucky, you may be able to trace the start of
your dog’s anxiety to a traumatic incident such as being too close to a fireworks
show or too close to a lightning strike and its subsequent thunder clap. But more
than likely, it won’t be anything that obvious. Your dog may have a genetic
predisposition for noise anxiety. Studies have shown that some breeds have a higher
incidence of noise anxiety such as Collies, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds.
For some dogs, noise anxiety gradually appears and worsens as they age for no apparent
reason. For other dogs, it appears as a puppy and stays with them.
But one thing that most experts agree on... when it comes to noise anxiety,
you never want to pet, coddle, or otherwise console the dog when she’s exhibiting
symptoms. Your dog will most likely interpret your behavior as “You see! I
do have something to be worried about!” It’s important for the people
around the dog to behave normally during events that trigger the dog’s anxiety.
In fact, a possible cause for noise anxiety in the first place is her owner’s
nervousness or fear of some kind of noise. Most dogs are very sensitive to their
owners’ moods. If her owner has a fear of thunder, she may give her owner
the benefit of the doubt!
What your dog is actually experiencing with noise anxiety could also be numerous
things. For some, it may be just the noise that bothers her... a dog’s
hearing is far more sensitive than a person’s and some loud noises may even
cause physical discomfort. But for others, it may not even be the actual noise that
frightens the dog. Dogs have highly developed senses of smell... they may smell
a thunderstorm long before they hear any thunder. Dogs are more sensitive to barometric
pressure changes than people... wide swings in pressure may even cause pain
in some dogs. Dogs also may react to the buildup of static electricity in their
fur when Thunderstorms approach.
Whatever the case may be, there are treatments to consider for giving relief to
Treatments for Noise Anxiety
So what are you to do? Different treatments work for different dogs. There is no
guarantee that any one alternative is best for your dog. Besides the effectiveness
at reducing symptoms, there are other issues to consider when evaluating which treatment
may be best for your dog. Some treatments can be very time consuming for the owner
(for example, desensitizing). Some treatments can become very expensive and pose
risks of side effects (for example, ongoing medications). I suggest that you review
the options below. If you are just getting started with treating your dog’s
noise anxiety, I recommend beginning with the least expensive and time consuming
option (a wrap) and if that doesn’t produce the desired results, continue
with the other options. It’s not unusual for a combination of treatments to
ultimately be the most effective for a particular dog.
Change the Dog’s Environment
These are the “common sense” simple things to try if feasible for your
circumstances. Try creating a safe haven for your dog (such as a blanket-covered
crate) or finding a location that will reduce the noise level. Try turning on music
or the television to help mask the sound of the problem noise. If you know an event
is coming (e.g. thunderstorm or fireworks), try giving your dog a lot of exercise
beforehand. None of the above typically shows dramatic results, but they can help
to reduce symptoms.
This is a surprisingly simple and effective treatment for many dogs. But unfortunately,
most veterinarians have never even heard of it as a treatment for noise anxiety.
A “pressure wrap” is anything that wraps around the dog’s torso and
chest to provide a constant, gentle pressure. Why does it work? No one knows for
sure but it’s likely a combination of making the dog feel comforted and secure
plus distracting the dog from concentrating on whatever it fears. This treatment
has been around for years and has been proven very effective for many dogs. You
can try to make one yourself out of an appropriately sized t-shirt, but it can be
difficult to put on and to get the desired fit. A product like ThunderShirt works
very well. It is very easy to put on, is well made, and is the least expensive commercial
wrap available... just $39.95. And ThunderShirt offers a satisfaction guarantee...
if it doesn’t work for you, you can return it for a full refund. Pressure
wraps often show good results with the first usage, however some dogs requires 2,
3 or more usages before you see reduced or eliminated symptoms. A pressure wrap
is inexpensive, the least time consuming, and has no risk of negative side effects.
So why not try it?
Desensitization is one of the most common behavior modification tried for noise
anxiety. In a nutshell, in a controlled environment, you begin by exposing your
dog to a low level of the noise that bothers her. As she gets accustomed to it,
you increase the levels louder and louder over time until she learns to tolerate
the real deal. It’s good in theory but has limitations in practice. It’s
very time consuming... if it works at all for your dog, you will likely have
to give periodic treatments weekly for the rest of the dog’s life. And many dogs
are too smart to react to the “staged” noise; they can tell the difference
between a CD playing a thunderstorm and the real thing. If you want to give it a
try, several books are available on the subject.
This is a very involved, complex area of treatment, so I won’t pretend to
provide a thorough overview here. There are a variety of prescription medications
that your veterinarian may suggest. Some are administered on a regular basis for
the life of the dog (Paroxetine or Fluoxetine). Some are given only at the time
of an anxiety event (valium). Sometimes a combination of drugs are used...
a doggy noise cocktail. Any of these options tend to be relatively expensive. The
vet visits alone can run hundreds of dollars over a dog’s life. And you still
need to pay for the drugs! Plus all drugs pose the risk of unwanted physical side
effects, sometimes severe. Make sure you ask your vet about any potential risks
with the drug(s) you’re considering. Two serious issues I have with using
a sedative like valium: 1. It can take hours for the drug to take full effect, so
you have to anticipate the noise event for it to help. Not very easy for storms
that hit in the night. 2. Your dog will remain groggy for hours after the storm
has passed and be a danger to herself. If she tries to jump off a bed under the
influence of valium, she may very well break a leg!
In conclusion, you don’t have to let your dog just suffer through noise anxiety.
There are treatments to try and some do not requires a big commitment by you, either
time or money. At a minimum, you should try mixing up the environment and using
a pressure wrap. In combination, that may be all you need for your little “puppy”
to weather the storms symptom free!